I still remember the first time I went to Galapagos. It was in 1994 and I was working at Pamir Travels & Adventures, owned by long-time friend and mentor Hugo Torres, doing a traineeship in Sales and Marketing. Those were the last days before email; I actually remember installing the first PC in Hugo’s office with an email account. For all the beauty and peace I find in the natural wonders of the continent I have called home for the past 15 years, I still get bewildered by the pace of technological development we have seen in just about the same time frame. If only we would apply more of our technological creativity to finding ways to protect the very world we live in, we would be way past trying to create paradise on earth, I bet you.
I was halfway through my traineeship when I had a meeting with Hugo and his wife Mireilla about how actual travel experience could enhance the sales process. That same afternoon, we had a group arriving from Germany. Since at the time I was the only one in the office speaking German, Hugo asked me if I wanted to accompany the driver to go and receive the group. The group consisted of Dr. Gerd and Mrs. Christel Gigler and some of their best friends, who had come to Ecuador to celebrate their 25th marriage anniversary in style. We had a nice conversation aboard the bus on the way to their hotel and they asked me to accompany them on their city tour the next day, which I did. The day after we were bringing the group to the airport for their flight to the Galapagos Islands, when Gerd all of a sudden asked me: “Bart, we have chartered a ship for our honeymoon, it has 10 beths and we are 9; would you like to join us?” I needed to ask him to repeat that twice before I really understood what he had just said, and when I looked at Mireilla who was with us that day, she nodded and gave me a look, as if to say “what are you waiting for? This is a chance in a lifetime!” So, after some (about 5 seconds) of thinking I agreed and after some practical issues (such as me not having brought anything to the airport but the clothes I was wearing and for some reason my passport) were solved, I found myself with my new friends on my way to the Galapagos…
Samba was a refurbished, formerly Dutch trawler, which today would be considered a luxury, small-group cruise vessel. With five cabins it was actually smaller than most ships one will find, but therefore that much cozier when traveling in a group of friends. We sailed the 8-day, westerly route and it was one of the most amazing trips I have made in my life, when it comes to marine wildlife. I watched, swam and played with so many different species of animals I can hardly remember them all: Giant turtles, white-tipped reef sharks, golden rays, manta, sea lions, leather back turtle hatchlings, black hawks, albatross, red- and blue-footed boobies, spinner dolphins, blue whales, frigates, finches, Galapagos lizards, and so many more that it still dazzles me thinking back on it.
The only experience to come close to this was my 6-hour boat ride on the “Golfo Nuevo” Bay near the Valdes Peninsula, when I actually had an 18m (54ft) Southern Right Whale come up alongside our zodiac, look me right in the eye, kind of asking for a tap on the back. I did and he (or she; I did not verify) started spinning slowly around his horizontal axis, allowing me to caress his skin and have one of my life’s most awesome encounters with nature.
Not that the Galapagos did not offer similar opportunities: I went snorkeling with a piece of rope to play with an abundance of sea lions, who tried not only to bite the rope, but also take off my fins and mask, which was both scary and fun; Swimming back to the surface I literally swam through a cloud of golden rays, only to surface finding a pelican perched on my head, as the ship mates had decided to have a laugh and throw some leftovers of the preparation of the fish for that evening’s feast into the sea next to the boat. I watched a Galapagos hawk spot, catch and devour a baby leather back turtle only meters away from where I was laying, observing how hundreds of its fellow hatchlings made their way into the ocean, surviving the first of many perilous episodes in their lives; I almost stepped on a blue-footed booby, who had placed her nest right on the trail designated for two-legged visitors, completely impervious to the risk I posed her; I saw thousands of spinner dolphins jumping over each other in a feeding frenzy as we followed a pair of blue whales below Isabela Island; I stood in a bay, water to my knees, with two resting reef sharks laying at my feet, while small Galapagos penguins swam across at less than 10m (30ft) distance. I did and saw all that and remember thinking: “this must be the best traineeship ever…”
Galapagos is one of those very few places on earth where we can see what the world would look like if we had not consistently hunted and killed every animal in sight, what it would feel like if man and animal were actually able to live side by side, sharing the same space. I can tell you it is beautifully humbling and if you love nature, this is a place you definitely should not miss.
For a couple of ideas on Galapagos holidays, please have a look at the following links:
Galapagos: Last minute and special offers!
Thanks again for reading, hope to see you here soon!